Willowbrook Foods to open £5.5m factory this summer

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Catering, New product development

Willowbrook Foods md John McCann (left)
Willowbrook Foods md John McCann (left)
Northern Irish firm Willowbrook Foods will open a new £5.5m factory site this summer that includes a cutting-edge food innovation centre.

Active in the retail and foodservice sectors, Willowbrook produces fresh pre-packed vegetables, salads and mash products and employs around 200 staff across two sites in Newtownards and Killinchy in County Down.

New product development kitchen

Colin Ferguson, sales and new product development (NPD) director, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the factory investment programme, which began in 2009, will see the new 55,000 sq ft Killinchy site open this summer, creating around 25 jobs.

The investment, which includes salad and vegetable processing lines and a 6,000 sq ft NPD kitchen, will more than double Willowbrook’s existing capacity, Ferguson explained, adding that the firm saw NPD was key due to “unique customer needs and demand for innovative products”​, catering for which has already helped the firm turn over £20m in 2010, almost double what it was five or six years ago.

“We’ve seen around 20% growth in most recent years, and we attribute this to providing customers with products that aren’t already in the marketplace, and listening closely to their needs.”

WIllowbrook has just won new business to supply six new stir-fry products to Budgens’ 180 UK stores, while other customers include The Co-operative Food Group, Tesco, Subway, Pizza Hut and KFC.

Value for clients and public

Ferguson said the new investment would allow greater economies of scale that would harness greater price efficiencies, helping the firm reach out to new customers, while innovation was crucial in a competitive sector where products rapidly come and go.

“Both within the retail and food service sectors, we’re trying to provide value for money but not necessarily a lower price. It’s also about portion control and value for the consumer, making their lives easier,” ​said Ferguson.

“One example could be the trend towards things like meal kits, and packaging with easy preparation advice that encourages cooks to use vegetables in the home.

“Talking to our customers, they see our innovation centre as the key to the business, the fact that we want to work with them on the NPD side. We don’t believe one product fits all, it’s crucial that we customise our offerings.”

Key recent appointees on the NPD side at Willowbrook, who will work with clients to customise products, include Amanda Ferguson (formerly with Moy Park) and Jennifer Gray (Ashers).

Related topics: Fresh produce

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